While the Covid Lockdowns have been an uncontrollable nuisance for most people, they have actually been a benefit for Ellie Rowsell and her Wolf Alice bandmates (Joel Amey, Joff Oddie, Theo Ellis). When recording the north London group’s third album Blue Weekend with Markus Dravs (producer of many Arcade Fire songs including the whole of The Suburbs) in Brussels, the band were stuck in the European city because returning to their home city was prohibited. This meant that the group had no distractions and no excuse not to fully concentrate on the record. The result of this isolation is an intense collection of memorable and powerful tracks that twist and turn. An intensity that’s present in both the explosive and mellow moments.
Although a lot of Wolf Alice’s Blue Weekend is written pre-Covid, the lyrics reflect the kind of re-evaluation that many of us have been having when being restricted to our own four walls. Tracks about once-divided communities coming together in the face of adversity (The Beach), analysing the arrogance of humanity (‘The Last Man On Earth’), a self esteem-building pep talk (‘Smile’), helping each other’s mental health (‘How Can I Make It OK?’) and reminiscing about a time when we could party with freedom in a pub or party (‘Play The Greatest Hits’, ‘Delicious Things’). And as is the case with Wolf Alice albums, Ellie Rowsell guides us through with part-serious, part-fun lyrics and a voice that varies from talk-singing, to an ethereal falsetto (‘Lipstick On The Glass’) to yelling at the top of her lungs.
Album number three’s first teaser ‘The Last Man on Earth’ is an unusual track for Wolf Alice, with its piano ballad beginning, but the track is elevated by Joff Oddie’s proggy guitar solo in the bridge and strings, that along with Rowsell’s breezy vocals will provoke swaying hands at their future concerts. It also feels like a classic in their catalogue and destined to be a set closer. The track uses a quote from a novel by Kurt Vonnegut called Cat’s Cradle as the starting point in commenting on humanity’s delusional behaviour. The quote being: “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” Parts 1 and parts 2 of the euphoric ‘The Beach’ which bookend Blue Weekend also use a line from a work of fiction, this time the beginning of Macbeth. “When will we three meet again?” The three in question in this case include her mother and her grandmother honouring their support.
Irresistible single ‘Smile’ is an electrifying bust of head-banging rock and a defiant reaction to when an individual undermines you. “I am what I am and I’m good at it. And you don’t like me, well that isn’t fucking relevant”. In a similar not-holding-back punk to ‘Yuk Foo’ from their previous Mercury Prize winning record Visions Of A Life, ‘Play The Greatest Hits’ is unapologetically tumultuous punk. Oddly with the hand claps, it sounds like Yeah Yeah Yeahs performing Toni Basil’s ‘Hey Mickey’. It reminiscences about their partying days at The Castle, a venue in Islington. But like ‘Delicious Things’ this environment sounds toxic.
On ‘Play The Greatest Hits’ the partying sounds like a quick yet addictive solution to an emotional void: “I fall in love with the first fucking creep. To open his arms. Matter over mind. Fill in the silence with the first thing you find.” While ‘Delicious Things’ imagines that the overwhelming success of Wolf Alice has got them into a record industry party containing dangerous pleasures: “I don’t care, I’m in the Hollywood Hills. I’m no longer pulling pints, I’m no longer cashing tills. And I’m alive, I feel like Marilyn Monroe. If you’re all poppin’ pills, you know I won’t say no”. I guess it could be easy for them to be swallowed by that scene but Rowsell keeps reminding herself “Don’t lose sight”. The intensity continues on the noteworthy ‘Feeling Myself’. Although it has an obvious crude double meaning, musically it’s one of the album’s most intriguing tracks. Imagine Lana Del Rey encircled by the synths of Chvrches, the shoegaze of My Bloody Valentine and the keyboards of Stevie Wonder.
Short folk track ‘Safe From Heartbreak’ and the Haim-reminiscent ‘How Can I Make It OK’ show a passion for harmonies on Blue Weekend. The former is a nod to New Jersey sisters The Roches and in particular their song ‘Hammond Song’. Excitingly bold track ‘How Can I Make It Ok’ sounds supportive but it also pushes the listening to not be afraid of things: “But to live in fear isn’t to live at all”. That really is one of the themes of Blue Weekend, an album that as the title suggests, wants to connect with the similar problems of its listeners, but also urges them to never give up and march on.